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Monday, September 30, 2013
Making Your Essay Dramatic
I still remember being seventeen. Well, pretty much. I loved to write, and back then, applying to college wasn't the Everest climb that it is these days. For a start, I only had to write one for most of the schools I applied to. Only the Stanfords were requiring supplementals, which now are standard.
In the intervening years, I've read and edited hundreds, if not thousands of essays. Most high school kids struggle with the same problem; they don't have anything dramatic to write about. I'll go out on a limb here to add that many (most?) kids applying to college are coming from pretty stable homes. So fortunately, their lives have been pretty bereft of extreme highs and lows.
To remedy this, many of these students dig into the well of accomplishments for essay fodder. So we read about winning the swim meet, volunteering in Venezuela, working as a camp counselor. And there's nothing inherently wrong with that, except that most of those experiences will be listed elsewhere on the application.
If you run cross-country, you might not actually want to write about it. Doing so is a missed opportunity to reveal something else about your personality. Something that can't be distilled into one-word on the application packet.
Don't underestimate the power of simple observation. Think small. Write about a smile from a stranger on a crowded bus. Or the stifling heat in the kitchen at last year's Thanksgiving dinner. Why you hate sharing a room with your little sister. Nothing is uninteresting if it's helped you to notice something about yourself or your world.
Done well, an anecdote about a bratty sister will tell your reader a lot more about you than a rehash of your triumph at the spelling bee. It might also take some of the pressure off. You don't need to be the best at anything to get into college.
So trust that who you are and what you observe is enough. There's no need for drama.
Labels: Making Your Essay Dramatic
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